Word count matters. As writers,we’ve all heard this. Although there are exceptions, this rule is especially true for beginning writers applying to publishers. Because of this, I thought I’d talk about it today since I know many of my readers are looking at publications opportunities.
1. Target Audience: This is a big one, because it often decides what the word count will be in a publisher. The numbers are decided based on average reading ability and popular novels. These numbers are considered the target range for that specific audience. I’ll get in more detail later on, but here are the main three I’ve come across in discussion with publishers:
- Children: Chapter Books: under 20,000
- Young-Adult: under 80,000
- Adult: 80,000+ (This genre is interesting, because it differs extremely within publishers and the genre you’re writing. A lot of publishers still encourage under 80,000 for first time, but they are often more willing to expand, especially for science-fiction and mystery.)
2. Publisher: Every publisher is different. That being said, you can search among publishers that are willing to publish new authors with larger and/or shorter novels, including series. If you haven’t started writing a novel yet, I’d highly encourage checking out numerous publishers in your genre and looking up their word count preference. This is an easy way to set a clear goal for your novel, and it will help move you forward to the next steps. I once attended a writing conference with Rosemary Clement Moore, author of Prom Dates from Hell, and she hosted a word count workshop. She talked about figuring out your word count before using math to split up the basic plot line graph to figure out where you should be on your word count during certain events. For example: if your novel is 80,000 words, your climax should be anywhere between 60,000 and 70,000 words (depending on how quickly you’d like the resolution to happen.)
3. Consider Cutting and/or Adding: This is a big one. Once you finish a novel, you’re attached to it.
Correction: once you’ve retained an idea or seriously began it, you’re attached to it. Changing it, especially after the product is completed, is a scary thought. It’s tedious work–often more tedious than actually writing it. But I like to think of editing as another writing process, because editing seems to be a “dirty” word; it holds negativity–like everything before wasn’t good enough. That’s why I think of it as writing. It’s still creating. It’s fun, and things that change are often wonderful.
To be perfectly honest, I write really large novels. Minutes Before Sunset was originally 136,000+ words. The final product, however, is right below 80,000. All three novels of my trilogy have gone this way, and I love it. Minutes Before Sunset is more fast-paced, and I even added more information than the first. I did lose a few scenes, but I’m not saddened by this. I’ve kept all of them, and maybe one day I can share them as an extra! In fact, many authors are doing this now, especially young-adult authors. Examples include Cassandra Clare and Lauren Oliver. Side stories have even been mass produced. (Stories that aren’t even told from main characters.) I think this is a great sign, because it shows how much readers want MORE, even after the books have been completed. However, it’s often safer–as a beginning writer–to keep in mind that keeping these stories and scenes can be risky when applying to publishers who are looking for smaller books. Look at Lauren Oliver. Her first novel, Before I Fall, was much shorter than her Delirium trilogy. This happens a lot in the publishing industry. They want a “first” book that’s smaller and not as risky. They can see if your work is good in the industry, and then they can release longer books or even series (which is another risky move when applying.)
One last piece: this advice is advice. What I mean is this: I am not saying to give up on your longer novels or series. I’m only clarifying what many publishers have deemed risky when considering first-time authors. But I would suggest, which most artists do already, to keep an open mind. If a publisher loves your long novel but wants it shortened, you might be surprised by how much you enjoy condensing the art. You might even like the final series being one book.
I am planning on writing about series in general or I would expand further on that topic.
I’ve also created a list of questions to consider about word count:
How long are your novel/s? Is there an average length? Consider trying to write something outside of your range. Ex/ write a short story if you write novels.
Did you have a word count goal set out when you started? Did you go over or under your goal?
What about your chapters? Are some longer than others? Considering splitting the sizes. This creates a shift in rhythm readers often enjoy. Ex/ one short chapter among numerous long ones can be a bit of a breather and speed things up.
Feel free to answer below. Sharing your experiences within our community can help other authors and writers.
I am excited to announce Minutes Before Sunset climbed 150,000 ranks in two days. AEC Stellar Publishing is still giving away free ebooks, and it’s also available for $3.89 to celebrate being awarded Goodreads Book of the Month! Comment, message, or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested